It’s been an emotional week – Matt Peet hails Wigan after win in ‘special final’

Wigan head coach Matt Peet revealed the raw emotion that underpinned his side’s second Betfred Challenge Cup win in three years after tries from Zach Eckersley, Bevan French and Liam Farrell saw them sink Warrington 18-8 at Wembley.

The moving build-up to the final following the death of Rob Burrow last Sunday triggered personal memories for number of Wigan players, including man-of-the-match French, whose mother also died from Motor Neurone Disease in 2022.

Winger Liam Marshall lost his mother in February, one day after greeting his new baby daughter, while Peet’s Warrington counterpart Sam Burgess is only too aware of the devastating impact of MND having lost his father Mark to the disease.

ributes were paid to Rob Burrow at the Betfred Challenge Cup final
Tributes were paid to Rob Burrow at the Betfred Challenge Cup final (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Peet said: “It was a special final in its own right for which ever team won it. It’s been an emotional week because Rob was such a special character, and it stirs up emotions for everyone.

“I’m sure it stirred up emotions for Bevan, for Liam Marshall and for Sam Burgess. We all love Rob Burrow and his family but we’ve got be honest, it also makes you think about your own situation and your own family, and the people you love.”

French conceded that the emotion following Burrow’s death had brought back memories, especially in relation to the Challenge Cup, which he won with Wigan in May 2022 just four months after his mother passed away.

“With Rob obviously being such a legend, it has connected to me a bit emotionally,” said French. “It has made this week sweet, especially the fact that my mum passed away from it.

“The first trophy I won since I came back to England after she passed away was the Challenge Cup, so it makes it a bit more special.”

Wigan are now only the third team in history to hold all four major trophies at the same time, and Peet hailed the mentality of his squad for delivering a performance that saw them well in control after Zach Eckersley crossed for the opening try.

“We talk a lot about chasing perfection but it was never going to be the perfect game,” added Peet.

“It was about trusting each other and coping with the ebbs and flows of the game. I feel the strength of this group is their ability to deal with whatever comes along. When things are against them they almost seem to rise to the challenge.

“Our motivation was achieving something that is not unprecedented but is particularly special, putting that fourth trophy in the cabinet. I think this group of players are motivated by what they can achieve and the memories they can make together.”

Peet reserved special praise for his captain Farrell, who marked another trademark performance by surging over for his side’s third and final try midway through the second half that effectively ended Warrington’s slim hopes of muscling back into the match.

“Sometimes Liam’s achievements can go noticed,” added Peet. “There have been some good back-rowers in Super League over the last 10 or 15 years, but in terms of success and playing in big games, I think Faz takes some beating.”

Warrington boss Burgess described a “deflating” experience in his first big match as a coach and admitted his side never looked likely to prevent Wigan from adding the Challenge Cup to their Grand Final, League Leaders’ Shield and World Club Challenge trophy collection.

Josh Thewlis kicked Wolves in front with an early penalty but it took until Matt Dufty’s late try to trouble the scoreboard again, by which time their opponents had all but sealed a relatively straightforward success.

“I feel their pain in the changing rooms and I’m a bit deflated too,” said Burgess, who was experiencing his first Challenge Cup final having fallen just short in an otherwise glittering playing career.

Warrington Wolves head coach Sam Burgess applauds the fans after the Betfred Challenge Cup final at Wembley
Warrington head coach Sam Burgess saw his side beaten by Wigan (John Walton/PA)

“I felt we were always behind, or that we just didn’t play the way we’ve played all year. That was the most disappointing thing but we’ve really just got to learn from that, take the experience and move forward.

“We’re not shaken by it because we made the final, and we just had a bad day at the office. Wigan are the champions for a reason and we’ve got a little bit of learning to do after today.

“We’ll get back to the drawing board. It’s not the end of us, we’ve got another great challenge ahead. There are 14 games left in the league, which are 14 opportunities to improve ourselves, and then we go again.”